The Power of Law Firms and Law Schools Working Together on Pro Bono

by Kelsey Hunt, PBI Intern

Strong and growing interest in pro bono at law schools suggests that there has never been a better time for collaboration between law firms and law schools. For example, 82 students at the University of Virginia School of Law’s 2023 graduating class completed the pro bono hours challenge of at least 75 hours of service. This law student interest in pro bono is more than just a flash in the pan; interest has been peaking over several years now. The University of Chicago Law School’s class of 2022 broke the school’s record by collectively recording 15,932 hours of pro bono legal work. Implemented properly, law firms can expect law student participation to boost their pro bono programs, while providing an alternative or enhanced avenue for recruiting top law students for associate positions after graduation.

The Pro Bono Institute (PBI) Report on the 2022 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Statistics shows that law firms are already engaging with law students through summer associate programs and are enhancing those programs by involving their summer hires in pro bono. However, pro bono outside of summer positions offers additional opportunities for interaction with prospective hires that cannot be achieved through summer programs. For example, teaming up with law students during the school year can help firms engage a larger number of law students and can provide an extended period for firms and law students to ensure that they are a good fit for one another, all while strengthening the firm’s pro bono impact and improving access to justice.

Law Students and Law Schools Are Increasingly Focusing Efforts on Pro Bono Work and Are Placing an Increased Value on Law Firms’ Pro Bono Programs

Many of the nation’s top law schools recommend that students consider law firm pro bono programs when choosing a post-graduate firm. Berkeley Law’s website specifically advises students to “reinforce the importance of pro bono” before choosing a firm by inquiring about firms’ pro bono programs and by walking away from firms without strong programs. At Yale Law School, the career services department provides students with this guide, which encourages students to assess a firm’s pro bono work before choosing a post-graduate firm. Many other top law schools do the same, including those at Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Chicago, and University of Virginia, to name a few.

Firms can expand pro bono programs and enjoy more productive recruiting seasons by providing pro bono opportunities that allow students to participate from their law school campuses. Firms can stand out by marketing available pro bono programs and generating additional opportunities by partnering with law schools. To understand the potential efficacy of this strategy, consider a survey of pro bono programs of the top ten law schools by region, as ranked by the 2024 U.S. News Report (Table 1).

Of these 40 schools, 12.5 percent have a mandatory pro bono graduation requirement (Table 2). An additional 70 percent have pro bono pledges that encourage students to complete pro bono hours before graduation (Table 3). A further 12.5 percent encourage pro bono in other ways (Table 4).  All told, 95 percent of the top schools either require or actively promote student engagement in pro bono. Not surprisingly, many of the schools surveyed indicate on their website that significant portions of their student populations take advantage of pro bono opportunities or complete the pledge while enrolled (Table 3). Finally, many of the schools surveyed promote an avenue for firms to connect with the school to create or partner with them on bono projects.

These findings show a commitment to pro bono efforts and exemplify an avenue for firms to recruit top students and to best utilize those students’ talents once they become employees of the firm. For example, 10 of the surveyed schools reported on the number of pro bono hours completed by graduates while enrolled, totaling at least 102,148 pro bono hours (Table 5). These hours and the corresponding high student participation rates demonstrate that if opportunities are available, students will lend their growing legal skills to pro bono work. The Report on the 2022 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Statistics confirms this – law students participated in the pro bono programs of 97% of firms reporting on this metric, with many firms achieving 100% law student participation (Table 6).

Partnering with Law Students on Pro Bono Projects Can Bolster Firms’ Pro Bono Programs and Promote Existing Pro Bono Efforts to Attract Top Talent

Law firm and law school pro bono collaborations boost law firm lawyers’ enthusiasm for pro bono, expand pro bono offerings at law firms, and promote firms’ commitment to pro bono to potential candidates at top law schools.

Partnerships with schools can take several forms. Law firms can work with law school clinics to provide attorney oversight for such programs. For example, senior associates at WilmerHale* and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe* led the Howard Civil Rights Clinic as adjunct professors. The GW Family Justice Litigation clinic works with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a model that law firms could embrace to engage students in their pro bono work. University of Texas – Austin provides pro bono service in partnership with several firms, including Baker Botts* and Fish & Richardson. Other programs include Columbia’s Sidley Austin LLP* Spring Break Pro Bono Caravans and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) Name Change project, with which Sullivan & Cromwell attorneys assist.

By working with students eager to obtain hands-on experience, law firms can leverage their own resources, allow their attorneys to focus on aspects of projects that require the most skills and experience, and take on more pro bono work overall. Engaging students can also help firms work in a wider variety of matters by providing opportunities for firm lawyers to benefit from the expertise of law school faculty and staff.

Law school partnerships not only offer law firm pro bono programs more volunteers but they also generate new ideas and viewpoints from the fresh perspective of law students. These partnerships provide further insight into the issues and pro bono opportunities that are important to the next generation of lawyers.

Law students are not just looking for pro bono opportunities; they are looking for firms that show a clear commitment to pro bono work. A firm that demonstrates that commitment through pro bono collaborations with law schools can attract top talent to the firm. Such programs offer a more comprehensive way to get to know potential candidates before, during, or after a summer associate program. When attorneys do pro bono work with law students, they have a greater opportunity to evaluate law students’ skills, personality, and fit than they likely would have in an on-campus or traditional interview setting.

Pro bono is an efficient and inexpensive way to give young associates more experience, and it can work similarly for law students who may be future summer associates. Working on substantive pro bono matters before a formal summer associate program can prepare students for working at law firms and can help develop their experience level so they can provide more value once they reach the firm as a summer or junior associate. Getting to know students outside of traditional summer associate programs also allows firms to develop more substantial relationships with students than a traditional ten-week program may allow. And because law schools tend to partner with multiple firms, lawyers working with law school pro bono programs will have an opportunity to meet attorneys at other firms and expand their networks.

Finally, it is well accepted that pro bono work helps firms retain experienced attorneys by developing firm pride and loyalty. Building out your pro bono program to include law students is an easy way to develop your future associate class. Law students want hands-on experience, and providing that experience through pro bono fosters goodwill and bolsters the reputation of firms in the eyes of the nation’s future lawyers.

Get started!

If your law firm is interested in engaging with law schools on pro bono, there are many schools with opportunities available for collaboration. PBI Law Firm Pro Bono Project staff is available to provide advice and counseling on such initiatives.

TABLE 1: Schools Surveyed
Top 10 Western Law Schools


US News Rank Top 10 Midwestern Law Schools US News Rank
Stanford University 1 University of Chicago 3
University of California-Berkeley 12


University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 9


University of California-Los Angeles 13


Northwestern University 9


University of Southern California 16


Vanderbilt University 19


Brigham Young University 28 University of Minnesota 16
Arizona State University




Washington University of St. Louis 16


University of Utah 28 Ohio State University 26
University of California-Irvine 42 University Of Notre Dame 20
University of Washington 48 University of Iowa 36
University of Arizona




University of Wisconsin-Madison 36


Top 10 Southern Law Schools


US News Rank Top 10 Northeastern Law Schools US News Rank
Duke University 4 Yale University 1
University of Virgina 4 University of Pennsylvania 4
University of Texas-Austin 16 Harvard University 4
University of Georgia 20 New York University 9
University of Florida 28 Columbia University 8
University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill 20


Cornell University




Wake Forest University 25 Georgetown University 14
Texas A&M University 26 Boston University 24
Emory University 42 Boston College 28
University Of Alabama 33 Fordham University 33
TABLE 2: Pro Bono Graduation Requirements
Law School Rank Location Pro Bono Hours Graduation Requirement
University of Pennsylvania 4 Philadelphia, PA (Northeastern) 70
Harvard University 4 Boston, MA (Northeastern) 50
Columbia University 8 New York City, NY (Northeastern) 40
University of Florida 28 Gainesville, FL (Southern) 40
Texas A&M University 26 College Station, TX (Southern) 30
TABLE 3: Pro Bono Pledges
Law School Rank Location Pro Bono Pledge (challenge to complete specified hours by graduation) Percentage of Students Completing Pledge/Approximate Annual Hours (Last Reported)
Stanford University 1 Stanford, CA (Western) 50 Over 60%
University of California-Berkeley 12 Berkeley, CA (Western) 75 Not listed
University of California-Los Angeles 13 Los Angeles, CA (Western) 50 6,700 hours – a 40% increase, completed in the first year
University of Southern California-Gould 20 Los Angeles, CA (Western) 50 2,500 hours
Brigham Young University 28 Provo, UT (Western) 100 Not listed
Arizona State University 36 Tempe, AZ (Western) 50 Not listed
University of California-Irvine 42 Irvine, CA (Western) 120 Over 50% (90% participate)
University of Utah 28 Salt Lake City, UT (Western) 50 Not listed
University of Washington 48 Seattle, WA (Western) 70 Not listed
University of Virginia 4 Charlottesville, VA (Southern) 75 12%
Duke University 4 Durham, NC (Southern) 50 Not listed
University of Texas-Austin 16 Austin, TX (Southern) 50 37%
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 20 Chapel Hill, NC (Southern) 75  

14,048 hours

University of Alabama 33 Tuscaloosa, AL (Southern). 40 Not listed
Wake Forest University 25 Winston-Salem, NC (Southern) 50 5,000 hours
University of Chicago 3 Chicago, IL (Midwestern) 50 13,000 hours
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 9 Ann Arbor, MI (Midwestern) 50 Not listed
Northwestern University 9 Chicago, IL (Midwestern) 50 14,000 hours
Vanderbilt University 19 Nashville, TN (Midwestern) 75 Not listed
Washington University of St. Louis 16 St. Louis, MO (Midwestern) 50 Not Listed
University of Minnesota 16 Minneapolis, MN (Midwestern) 50 Not listed
University of Iowa 36 Iowa City, IA (Midwestern) 15 4,500 hours
University of Wisconsin-Madison 36 Madison, WI (Midwestern) 50 Not listed
New York University


9 New York, NY (Northeastern) 50 Not listed
Cornell University 14 Ithaca, NY (Northeastern) 25 1,100 hours
Georgetown University 14 Washington, DC (Northeastern) 50 Not listed
Boston University 24 Boston, MA (Northeastern) 50 Not listed
Boston College 28 Newton, MA (Northeastern) 50 20%/10,300 hours
TABLE 4: Law Schools Promoting Pro Bono Through Means Other Than
Pledge or Graduation Requirement
Law School Rank Location  Pro Bono Performance Indicators
Arizona State University 36


Phoenix, AZ (Western) Over 90% of students participate in pro bono service while enrolled
Emory University 42 Atlanta, Georgia (Southern) Website promotes pro bono work and provides numerous opportunities
Northwestern University 9 Evanston, IL


Recognition given at graduation, students performing 100 or more hours are listed as Public Service Stars on school website, students performing 200 or more hours are listed on plaque in school atrium
Yale University 1 New Haven, CT (Northeastern) Hosts legal services organization allowing students to represent clients on pro bono basis with supervised attorneys hired by law school, call 203.432.4800 to inquire about participation
Columbia University 8 New York, NY


The Office of Public Interest/Public Service Law and Careers (PI/PS) engages with student organizations, law firms, government agencies, legal service providers, and other community partners to offer a wide range of pro opportunities


TABLE 5: Pro Bono Hours
Law School Rank Location Listed Pro Bono Hours Served by Law Students
University of California-Los Angeles 13 Los Angeles, CA (Western) 6,700 hours
University of Southern California-Gould 20 Los Angeles, CA (Western) 2,500 hours
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill 20 Chapel Hill, NC (Southern) 14,048 hours
Wake Forest University 25 Winston-Salem, NC (Southern) 5,000 hours
University of Chicago 3 Chicago, IL (Midwestern) 13,000 hours
Northwestern University 9


Chicago, IL (Midwestern) 14,000 hours
University of Iowa 36 Iowa City, IA (Midwestern) 4,500 hours
Cornell University 14 Ithaca, NY (Northeastern) 1,100 hours
Boston College 28 Newton, MA (Northeastern) 10,300 hours (graduating class)
University of Pennsylvania 4 Philadelphia, PA (Northeastern) 31,000 hours
Total hours: 102,148


TABLE 6: Law Student Pro Bono Participation Rates at Challenge Signatory Firms with Law Students

As stated in the Report on the 2022 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Statistics, the overwhelming majority (97%) of law firms that reported employing law students involved those students in pro bono, with 28% of the firms achieving 100% law student participation.

denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® member
* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory